The end of art, part two: abdication

This is part two of a two-part series. Part one is here.

Once artists run out of resources, they simply stop producing: abdication. It is normal, predictable, and totally understandable. Artists will continue to work on their craft, but the degree to which they finish work and/or share it with the world (whether for free or for sale) will decline.

In some cases, artists will disappear into their own private worlds, writing only for themselves. In this way, they abdicate from a world that has chosen to shoulder the burden of art on those least equipped to shoulder that burden. A lucky few may find either patronage or financial success, but they will be the minority.

Think of the great sculptors and painters of the renaissance, and look into their history. You’ll see that, by and large, they had financial support from those most able to provide it, and it is logical that, had no such support been given, the works simply would not have existed. These are the circumstances that we are in today, and it is hardly surprising that artists (whatever their art form) are struggling more than ever, and eventually, abdicating entirely.

This abdication matters for two primary reasons. Firstly, it’s already happening. Even some more popular artists (e.g., Cat Power) are having trouble sustaining themselves. The author John Sayles famously struggled to get his novel A Moment in the Sun  published because it didn’t meet commercial expectations (i.e., it’s ‘too long’).

Secondly, while it doesn’t mean that art won’t be created, it simply means the following:

  • Artwork that is available on a scale great enough to impact society will be homogenized and non-representative of the full creative spectrum of available artists.
  • Artwork being created, even if not on a grand scale, will not reach its full potential due to a lack of time, materials, and available effort for execution.
  • Artwork may fully become just another commodity. Perhaps only future generations will reap the benefits of current artists who cannot commodify their craft by way of chance findings in dusty foot lockers in attics, garages, and so on. Think Kafka.

Those who truly appreciate art and have the means set up endowments and the like. However, these are increasingly diluted and mismanaged by administrators. In essence, the endowments become just another market for artists to try to commodify themselves in. A better solution for those with means and appreciation (love) of the arts is to find an artist to serve as a patron to. Cultivating art in this personal way is a lost art in itself. I advocate a return to this model, which has not been as restrictive as most artists imagine.

Some of the more famous patrons, the Medicis of Italy for example, helped create some of the most amazing artwork of the renaissance, and their name lives on with the art they helped create. Haydn and Beethoven created amazing works with the aid of patrons, and it is unlikely that they would have achieved the output they did if they were left to their own devices.

It could be argued that the current market and government run endowments, or even private funds, are the same and do a good job of replacing patronage. I would argue that they do not, and that they are inferior replacements. That is to say, they are not even replacements, but pretend to be. While patronage may not be the perfect solution, it is a far better solution and would lead to a better creative life for artists, a wider variety and scope of artworks, and ultimately a better chance for art to flourish in our times, whatever direction it may take.

*image linked from brianmicklethwait.com

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